15 Things You Might Not Know About Illinois

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istock

1. Illinois gets its name from the native Illiniwek people. The name translates to "ordinary speaker." 

2. The state is the country's largest producer of pumpkins, second-largest producer of corn, and leading producer of arguments about whether or not ketchup is an acceptable condiment for a hot dog.

3. Speaking of Chicago's signature delicacies, if you're in the neighborhood, try a jibarito. The sandwich, which was invented by the city's Puerto Rican community, swaps out traditional bread for fried plantains, which are then filled with steak, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise, and sometimes cheese. It's not a traditional sandwich, but it's undeniably delicious.

4. The state fossil,Tullimonstrum gregarium, is called the Tully Monster. The carnivorous invertebrate looked like a cuttlefish and lived in the shallow swamp that was Illinois around 300 million years ago.

5. Illinois is one of the flattest states in the U.S.—so flat that the highest natural point, Charles Mound, is just 1,235 feet above sea level. Unlike most landmarks, this one's at the top of a family's driveway. They allow visitors just a few weekends a year and set up lawn chairs for taking in the view.

6. Chicago's low elevation and lack of a municipal sewer system led to serious flooding and disease outbreaks in the 19th century. To get out of the mud, engineers used hydraulic jacks to raise every city building up to six feet higher. Old, unwanted structures were put on rollers and moved to the suburbs.

7. Alas, then came the Great Fire of 1871. The Chicago Water Tower was one of the only buildings to survive. It's now a landmark—and apparently inspired the design of White Castle restaurants. Oscar Wilde wasn't impressed, though. He described it as "a castellated monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it."

8. The Chicago River is the one of the few in the world that flows backwards. A system of three canals was built from 1892 to 1922 to reverse the flow and empty sewage into the Mississippi, instead of Lake Michigan.

9. Presidents Lincoln, Grant, and Obama all lived in Illinois. But the only U.S. President actually born and raised there was Ronald Reagan. Nonetheless, the state's been nicknamed the Land of Lincoln since 1955. (It was previously the Prairie State.)

10. Agriculture is an important part of the state's economy, so it makes sense that Illinois has an official state soil. The Drummer soil series is a silty clay loam that covers over 1.5 million acres of Illinois. The loam is perfect for growing corn and soybeans, which earned it the nod as the state's top soil.

11. Historic Route 66, established in 1926, starts in Chicago. If you're looking for the very beginning, the Federal Highway Administration directs you to the intersection of Lake Shore Drive and Jackson Boulevard.

12. Chicago's nickname, the Windy City, has nothing to do with meteorology. The epithet—from a New York City journalist—actually referred to the boastful, long-winded politicians campaigning for the World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893. Before that, it may have been a phrase referring to the breezes off Lake Michigan, but it wasn't popularly used.

13. The city had a lot more to brag about after the exhibition. It introduced the original Ferris Wheel, the mechanical dishwasher, the moving walkway, Shredded Wheat, and the first zipper, then known as a clasp locker.

14.  Superman's fictional hometown of Metropolis shares its name with a real city 360 miles south of Chicago. Metropolis, Illinois has a Super Museum, complete with an outdoor phone booth, and hosts an annual Superman Celebration. The weekly newspaper is the Metropolis Planet, of course.

15. In 2012, Matt Groening revealed that The Simpsons' hometown of Springfield isn't based on the city in Illinois. "I figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S.," Groening said. "In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, 'This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield.' And they do."

5 Controversial Facts About Melvil Dewey and the Dewey Decimal System

iStock/TerryJ
iStock/TerryJ

Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System, was born on December 10, 1851. Among other things, Dewey was a self-proclaimed reformer, so when working for the Amherst College library in the 1870s, he began to reclassify the facility’s books and how they were organized.

Though the system has gone through plenty of changes over the years, it’s still in wide use all over the world today and forever changed how libraries categorize their books. It has also caused a handful of controversies. In honor of Dewey Decimal Day, we dug into the organizational system—and its creator’s—dark side.

1. Melvil Dewey co-founded the American Library Association, but was forced out because of offensive behavior.

Melvil Dewey was an extremely problematic figure, even in his time. Though he co-founded the American Library Association (ALA), his often-offensive behavior—particularly toward women—didn’t make him a lot of friends.

In Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey, author Wayne A. Wiegand described Dewey’s “persistent inability to control himself around women” as his “old nemesis.” In 1905, Dewey and several fellow ALA members took a cruise to Alaska following a successful ALA conference, with the purpose of discussing the organization’s future. Four women who were part of the trip ended up publicly accusing Dewey of sexual harassment—a rarity for the time. Within a year, Dewey was forced to step down from his involvement with the organization he helped to create.

2. Dewey required applicants to his School of Library Economy to submit photos.


A History of the Adirondacks, by Alfred Lee Donaldson (1921) // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1887, Dewey founded the School of Library Economy at Columbia College, where 90 percent of his students were female. It was long rumored that in addition to basic information like name, age, and educational background, Dewey required that prospective female students also submit their bust sizes. While this rumor was eventually proven to be false, Dewey did ask women to submit photos, often noting that “You cannot polish a pumpkin.”

3. A Howard University librarian reorganized Dewey's original system because of its racial bias.

Dewey’s personal biases spilled over into his creation, too, and it has taken sincere effort and work to right those wrongs. In the 1930s, Howard University librarian Dorothy Porter helped create a new system to undo the racist way Dewey’s system treated black writers. As Smithsonian reported:

All of the libraries that Porter consulted for guidance relied on the Dewey Decimal Classification. “Now in [that] system, they had one number—326—that meant slavery, and they had one other number—325, as I recall it—that meant colonization,” she explained in her oral history. In many “white libraries,” she continued, “every book, whether it was a book of poems by James Weldon Johnson, who everyone knew was a black poet, went under 325. And that was stupid to me.”

In addition to charges of racism, the DDS has also been accused of being homophobic. Early editions of the system classified books on or regarding LGBT issues under Abnormal Psychology, Perversion, Derangement, as a Social Problem, or even as Medical Disorders.

4. Its 'religion' section is skewed heavily toward Christianity.

The DDS section on religion starts at 200, and no other religion besides Christianity is covered until 290. Given that there are more than 4000 religions in the world, saving a mere 10 numbers for their classification doesn’t leave a lot of room for thorough coverage or exploration. Though some changes have been made as new editions of the system have been introduced, the process of restructuring the entire 200s is a project that has yet to be undertaken.

5. Critics of the system would prefer libraries take the Barnes & Noble approach.

The Dewey Decimal System is the most used library classification system, with the Chicago Tribune estimating that more than 200,000 libraries in 135 countries use it. But it’s far from a perfect system. As such, many libraries are experimenting with other organizational techniques, and many are dropping the DDS altogether.

The main complaint that public libraries have is that the Dewey Decimal System does not make reading exciting, and that there are other ways of categorizing and organizing books that are more like that of general bookstores. By doing away with the numbers (which are hard to remember for general library patrons), some libraries are classifying books simply by category and organizing by author—a system they've begun referring to as "Dewey-lite."

6 Fast Facts About Nelly Sachs

Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Today, on the 127th anniversary of her birth, a Google Doodle has been created in memory of writer Nelly Sachs, who died of colon cancer in 1970 at the age of 78. The German-Swedish poet and playwright wrote movingly about the horrors of the Holocaust, which she narrowly escaped by fleeing her home and starting a new life in a foreign land. Here are six things to know about Sachs.

1. She was born in Germany.

Sachs was born in Berlin on December 10, 1891. As the daughter of a wealthy manufacturer, she grew up in the city's affluent Tiergarten section. She studied dance and literature as a child, and also started writing romantic poems at age 17.

2. She almost ended up in a concentration camp.

Sachs's father died in 1930, but she and her mother Margarete stayed in Berlin. In 1940, the Gestapo interrogated the two women and tore apart their apartment. They were told they had a week to report to a concentration camp, so they decided to flee the country. Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf, with whom Nelly had corresponded for years, saved their lives by convincing the Swedish royal family to help the two women escape to Sweden.

3. She worked as a translator.

Once Nelly and her mother reached Stockholm, Sachs began learning Swedish and ultimately took up work as a translator. She translated poetry from Swedish to German and vice versa.

4. She was nearly 60 when she published her first book of poetry.

Sachs’s first volume of poetry, In den Wohnungen des Todes (In the Habitations of Death), was published in 1947. In this anthology as well as later poems, she used religious imagery to evoke the suffering of her time and the Jewish people.

5. She won the German Book Trade's Peace Prize.

In 1965, Sachs won the Peace Prize from the German Book Trade. She shared a message of forgiveness when she accepted the award from her compatriots. “In spite of all the horrors of the past, I believe in you,” she said.

6. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature on her 75th birthday.

Sachs and Israeli writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966. According to The Nobel Prize’s website, Sachs was recognized "for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength.”

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